Previous chapters are: HERE.
Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events bearing some similarities to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen.
Riding from Athkatla to the De’Arnise hold, on a bright sunny day, had been pleasant. The journey on to Imnesvale was less so. Rain fell, not heavily but in a fine mist that penetrated everywhere, and there was a chilly breeze. There had even been a crack of thunder in the distance not long after they set off, although just the one, and the threatened storm had never materialized. A small mercy for which to be thankful.
To Sorkatani, Minsc, and Yoshimo the rain was only a minor annoyance, hardly worthy of notice, and it didn’t bother Spike or Giles all that much either. The Californians, however, resented it and complained vocally. Viconia expressed her dissatisfaction, but then she complained incessantly about the sunshine anyway, and so it made little difference.
“Can’t you, like, do something about the weather?” Buffy asked Giles. “Sing us up a sunny day?”
Giles peered at her over his rain-fogged glasses. “It might be an achievable aim, I suppose, but it’s far too trivial a purpose. Magic always has consequences. Suppose I caused a drought?”
“There’s a song about, like, sunshine on a rainy day, isn’t there? Uh, yeah, I remember, that’s by Emma out of the Spice Girls, so you won’t know it, I guess.”
“The worst of all circumstances, rivvil,” Viconia objected. “Sunshine and rain. Why is there no roof to this stupid world?”
“Without sun and rain there would be no crops, no grass, no trees,” Sorkatani pointed out. “And no water to seep down to the Underdark either.”
“I’m perfectly familiar with ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ by Zoë,” Giles said, “but I still feel that it would be decidedly unwise to tamper with the weather merely for your comfort. In a life or death situation, perhaps, but this is hardly that. Anyway, I can’t strum my guitar as I ride. I’m not Roy Rogers.”
“Who? Hey, you could sing a cappella,” Buffy wheedled. “We could all sing along. Not to change the weather, right, but to, like, lift us up.”
“I don’t really have the voice for that song,” Giles mused. “If Tara were here, perhaps. Feel free to sing it yourself.”
“Tell you who has got the voice for it,” Spike put in unexpectedly. “Vicky here. Sorry, I mean Viconia.”
“You may refer to me by that diminutive if you have to, abbil,” Viconia said in a tone of weary resignation. “I will tolerate it. Your request is denied. I will not sing songs about sunshine.”
“You have a point there, Spike,” Giles agreed. “Viconia’s voice does indeed have something of the character of Zoë Pollock’s. I will concede that it is hardly an appropriate song for our drow companion, however.”
“Ever hear Zoë’s last record?” Spike asked. “Called ‘Hammer’? Bet Vicky would sing that one.” He cleared his throat and sang. “If I had a hammer, I’d hit you on the head. I wouldn’t stop the poundin’ ’til I knew that you were dead.” He stopped singing and shook his head. “Bet that sounded bloody awful.”
Viconia guided her horse closer to his. “Now that song I liked. Teach me, abbil, and I shall sing.”
Xander put up his hand. “Uh, look guys, why can’t we just do what they did in ‘Congo’ and sing ‘California Dreaming’?”
The village was small and crowded. Refugees had poured in from the surrounding hamlets and farmsteads. There was no room at the inn.
“I guess we sleep in the stable, huh?” said Xander.
“Too late,” Sorkatani said. “The locals have already thought of that.”
“The miserable rivvin peasants should make way for their betters,” Viconia said. “Know they not that we are here to fight their foes? If they do not give us the rooms we should drive them out with sword and mace.”
“That is not my way,” Sorkatani said. “If needs be we shall camp in the open.”
“We don’t have tents,” Buffy pointed out. “We’d get all wet.”
“Tents can be a death trap if enemies attack,” Sorkatani pointed out. “I am accustomed to sleeping on the ground with a waterproof skin over me. Yet with a group so large we can post a full guard so perhaps we might risk tents. Let us see what we can find, and what we can discover of the situation in this place.”
The village headman bore the impressive title of Chief Minister but had no lesser ministers under him. He could say little to clarify the situation. People were being attacked, killed, and then their bodies were vanishing. The ranger who lived near the village and acted as its protector was one of the missing. Another party of adventurers, recruited to clear up the mystery and defeat the evil forces, had vanished without trace.
It seemed that every inhabitant of the village had their own theory as to who or what was responsible; a pack of savage wolves, a band of ogres who had deserted from an army and taken up residence in the vicinity, or the resurrected spirit of the long-dead witch Umar after whom the nearby hills were named.
“Witches? Wolves? Ogres? Which is it? I am confused,” Minsc said. “Point me at Evil, and I will kick its butt. Do not ask me to think about whose butt is the butt of Evil.”
“Yeah, my head’s kinda spinning too,” Buffy sympathized. “But hey, the ogres are pretty close by, they say. We can go check them out easy enough.”
“And the ranger’s cabin, where there may be clues,” Sorkatani said.
“Isn’t this the place where that runaway murderer is supposed to be hiding out?” Anya asked. “We could take a look while we’re here.”
“Indeed so,” Yoshimo agreed.
“One thing at a time, people,” Buffy said. “If we’re gonna be chasing wolves or fighting ogres we don’t need to have a prisoner with us. We’ll look for that guy – what was his name, Valley Girl or something, right? – once we’ve got the main bad guys beat. Hey, there’s so many of us we’re pretty much of an army. It shouldn’t take too long.”
“Ha!” Warren snorted. “She is so going to regret saying that.”
“I don’t know, dude. Maybe they won’t find it too hard with such a big group. As long as they don’t risk taking on the Shadow Dragon, that is,” Jonathan said. “Well, I guess we’ve just got to leave them to it. At least we know Tara’s alive.”
“For now,” Warren said. “What the hell happened back there anyway? Firkraag isn’t supposed to do anything like that. Just hang around in his human form until they take notice. I guess he must have gotten impatient, but, hey, how come he could do anything? The game’s really coming to life.”
“It’s getting kinda creepy,” Jonathan said. “You think maybe we should pull them out of it?”
“I want to see what happens,” Warren said. “Although, yeah, maybe I would go for pulling them out if things in the game get any scarier. Only what would happen to the other halves? They’re getting to be, like, pretty much different people. One set of bodies. If we put the memories back then one set of personalities is going to lose out.”
“Yeah. It’s pretty confusing. Uh, maybe we could, you know, ask them?”
“What? Ask Alex and Joan and Randy and the guys if they want their memories back? Are you kidding? If they find out what we did they are going to be so pissed. Even if they don’t beat the crap out of us we can say goodbye to being friends with them. No way, dude. We did this thing and now we’re stuck with it. And, just maybe, it’s going to make us a million bucks.”
“As long as the pirate game doesn’t start thinking for itself too much,” Jonathan said.
“You have to be joking. Infinitely variable AI for the bad guys? That’s, like, the Holy Grail of gaming, man. Play it a hundred times and every time is different. Just totally awesome.”
“Not if the bad guys get too damn clever and the PC gets killed every time,” Jonathan pointed out. “How’s the mod playing?”
“Well, Firkraag hasn’t come up with any sneaky plans yet, and all the characters still do what I tell them,” Warren said. “So far, so good. But I’ve been concentrating on the pirates for a while. Give me an up-to-date save on this, I’ll take out the code, and update the mod. Then I’ll check it out.” He scratched his head and stared at the screen. “I hope Firkraag doesn’t get too impatient. It looks like it’ll take the rest of the guys a while to find out what he’s done with Tara.”
The refugees had not occupied the ranger’s cabin. This surprised some of the party until they opened her bedroom door. There were dark stains of old dried blood on the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling. The bedding was deeply stained; blood must have saturated it and then dried out. The wooden bars at the window were shattered.
A search of the place turned up the ranger’s journal. She suspected that wolves were to blame for the killings but that some dark force was controlling them. The final entry in the journal recorded her intention to investigate the den of the local wolf pack ‘in the morn’.
“She got hit that night,” Buffy deduced. “It’s a starting point for us, anyway.”
It was apparent that they were not the first to read the journal. A note was folded into its pages. Mazzy Fentan, leader of the band of adventurers who had preceded Buffy and Sorkatani’s groups on this mission, had left a record for any who came after her. She planned to follow up on Merella the ranger’s uncompleted investigation of the wolf pack den, and had left a sketch map of its location.
“So we leave another note, and in a couple of weeks someone else stands here reading it,” Buffy muttered.
“Sod that for a game of soldiers,” Spike said. “We’ll just have to win.”
They slept in the cabin but took turns on guard during the night. Nothing untoward happened, although they did hear the howling of wolves in the distance. In the morning they rode to check out the ogre encampment.
The ogres turned out to be peaceable. They too were refugees, they too had suffered attacks from some unknown predators who picked off stragglers and stole the bodies, and they sought only to be left alone. The wolf pack remained as prime suspects.
Sorkatani insisted that they leave their horses behind. They were not trained war horses and would be of little use in combat against wolves, especially in the forested region depicted on the map, and so the party arranged for them to be kept in a paddock in the village. The adventurers set out on foot and climbed up into the hills towards a region of thick forest and tangled undergrowth.
“It shouldn’t be this dark,” Anya complained. “It’s still early in the evening. How can I spot any traps in our path in this gloom?”
“Yeah, this sucks,” Dawn agreed. “Torches?”
“Right, light up torches everybody,” Buffy agreed. Tinder boxes and cigarette lighters were put to work and torches were lit. Their flames seemed to be swallowed up by the surrounding blackness.
“The light does not penetrate the darkness,” Yoshimo observed. “I sense dark magics at work here.”
“I fear that you are right,” Sorkatani said. “I like this not. Viconia, it seems that you are our eyes. Guide us, abbil.”
“Usstan dosst,” Viconia assented, with a bow of her head. “I see the path.”
Spike went into game face. “I’m okay too,” he told them. “Bloody dark, though. Hang on a minute. What the sodding hell is that?”
“A creature,” Viconia said. “Approaching fast. Make ready. More than one.”
“I can’t see a thing,” Buffy said, peering into the darkness. “What sort of creature?”
“Bloody loads of the buggers,” Spike growled. “Wolves. Look out!” His sword whistled through the air at some opponent unseen by the human members of the party.
A dark shape leaped at Buffy seemingly out of nowhere. She acted by pure reflex and the Blade of Roses slashed it in half in mid leap. Sorkatani drew and struck with Celestial Fury all in one move. Dawn, slower to react, was bowled over by a snarling wolf and went down with fangs snapping at her throat. Spike tore the creature away and broke its neck.
It picked itself up and returned to the attack.
“Vith’os!” Viconia snarled. “They are undead.” She lashed out with the Flail of Ages.
“I don’t see them!” Xander cried. He swung Azuredge in front of him in a defensive pattern.
“Xander!” Anya screamed as a wolf pounced on her. He dashed to her aid.
“Go for the eyes, Boo!” Minsc roared, and swung his mighty sword. He connected only with empty air and a wolf pounced upon his back.
Yoshimo swung his katana at random and connected with a wolf by sheer luck. He grinned widely for a moment but then another wolf took his legs out from under him and he went down.
“I can’t see them!” Buffy wailed in frustration. The wolves were black shadows within black shadow, virtually invisible, and were closing in to within feet before they could be made out. The party were in dire danger of being overrun.
Giles struck a chord on his guitar. “We see you in the darkness, we see you in light,” he sang. “We see your eyes shining in through the night.”
Red lights appeared, twinkling in the shadows in pairs, on every side. “Way to go, Giles,” Xander said as he withdrew Azuredge from the body of a slain wolf and helped Anya to her feet. He drew back his arm and sent the axe hurtling towards one of the pairs of gleaming eyes.
Sorkatani slew the wolf who had felled Yoshimo. Buffy went to Minsc’s assistance. The party began to recover its cohesion.
Willow had attempted a spell to bring light to the darkness but it had resulted in only a feeble glow that hardly even outshone the torches. Now she unleashed a barrage of magic missiles at the wolf-shapes in the undergrowth.
Swords flashed and clove undead flesh. Azuredge slew whatever it struck. Anya fired her crossbow but then found that she was too weak to reload. The wolves fell back, turned, and disappeared into the forest.
The party took stock of their situation. Dawn, Anya, Yoshimo, and Minsc were all suffering from a strange weakness. Minsc could not even support the weight of his armor and weaponry without aid.
“Their touch saps our strength,” Sorkatani deduced.
“Spike picked one up, and he’s okay,” Dawn said. “Thanks, Spike.”
“Promised to protect you, Bit,” Spike said. “Don’t mention it.”
“Maybe he’s immune on account of being him undead too,” Buffy suggested. “And hey, thanks for looking out for Dawn from me too, Spike.”
“No problem, Slayer,” Spike said. He sniffed the air, frowned, and began to scour the area.
“Shadows,” Xander said, dredging up old memories of Dungeons and Dragons. “The weakness will wear off. Can’t remember how long it takes. If they drain away all your strength, well, that’s bad. They can turn you into one of them. Only, I thought that only people could get turned into Shadows.”
“Wolves too, it seems,” Sorkatani said. “Is this, then, the fate that befell our predecessors?”
“Maybe,” Spike said. “I’ve found a body.”
It was indeed a fallen member of the other party. There was a journal on the corpse and they read it in a search for clues to the opposition and to the fate of the other members of the missing group.
“A ruined temple,” Sorkatani said. “The centre of the dark force, or so they deemed.”
“So we get to make like Indiana Jones,” Buffy remarked. “Uh, sorry. A guy in our world. But getting there is going to be a bitch.”
“I can drive back undead creatures for a time,” Viconia said. “I thought that these were but wolves and did not think to try. I was at fault.”
“You could not have known, abbil,” Sorkatani said. “Your eyes gave us at least some warning and may have saved us all. You too, Spike.” She turned her gaze to Giles. “And your song.”
“It was fairly fresh in my mind. ‘Sunshine on a rainy day’,” Giles said. “I had hoped it would cast a little more light than it did, but at least it enabled us to see the creatures.”
Viconia gave him a brief and tight smile. “It was well done. I shall sing that song for the rivvin, if you teach it to me, and if they will give me gold.”
“I’m sure that they will,” Giles assured her.
“So, this ruined temple,” Buffy brought them back on topic. “Over to the east, if the dead guy is still where he was when he wrote this. With some kinda light reflect-y thing that can drive back these Shadow wolf things.”
Sorkatani rested her hand on the hilt of Celestial Fury. “Once our comrades have regained their strength we shall go.”
The werewolf stood at bay, trapped in her cave by the overwhelming numbers of the party. “You shall not steal my vengeance,” she snarled.
Buffy frowned. “Vengeance? Hey, what did the people around here ever do to you?” Memories of Oz held her back from launching an immediate attack. “I’m kinda thinking you’re taking vengeance way too far.”
“People? It is against the Shade Lord that I seek vengeance,” the werewolf girl declared.
“I think this is another innocent victim,” Sorkatani said softly. She sheathed Celestial Fury. “Let us talk.”
“Let not your remembrance of Durlyle blind you, jabbress,” Viconia cautioned. “Remain alert.”
“Durlyle?” Willow asked.
“Later,” Sorkatani said. “Put down your weapons.”
The party complied. A single werewolf really didn’t seem to be such a big threat that they needed to face her with drawn swords and bows. She returned to her human form and sat down.
“The temple to the east was dedicated to Amaunator,” Anath, the werewolf girl, related. “Long abandoned, and no longer holy ground, but not a place of foulness until some weeks ago. The ground shook, and a darkness fell, and I gathered the pack to calm them for I thought that it was an eclipse. It was not. The Shade Lord arose, and he walked among my pack, and he slew them with but a glance. I leapt upon him but my teeth bit nothing. He but laughed. His darkness reached out and my brethren arose from the dead as Shade Wolves. Now they follow the Shade Lord and strike out from the temple at all who pass. Those who fall to them, wolf or human, arise as creatures of Shadow.”
“And for that you seek your vengeance,” Sorkatani said.
“I do. I have hidden, and watched, and done what I can, but I cannot prevail. I grow weak with hunger for the animals have fled. A ten-day ago adventurers came, and I sought to guide them towards the temple, but they loosed arrows at me and drove me away.” Anath sighed. “I meant them no harm. Thank you for hearing me out.”
“I believe that they found the temple anyway,” Sorkatani said. “What can you tell us of what we must face?”
Anath shrugged. “Little that will be of help, I fear. The Shade Wolves that were my pack. Humans that now are Shadows. Skeletons that walk as men. There is some great beast in the temple but I have seen it not. It smells sharp somehow, like unto the scent of angry ants. That is all. I regret that it is not more.”
“It is enough,” Sorkatani said. “I thank you.”
“Shall we go, then?” Anath stood and resumed her werewolf form. Willow shivered.
“Guide us there and then depart,” Sorkatani advised. “Your teeth cannot harm them, and there is no need for you to fall in this fight.”
“I shall fight,” Anath insisted. “The vengeance is mine.” She strode towards the cave exit. “Follow quickly.”
“Wait,” Sorkatani pleaded, but Anath took no notice. Hastily the adventurers stood and followed the werewolf.
“We met Durlyle upon Balduran’s Isle,” Viconia explained to Willow as the party walked through the forest behind Anath. “The island was divided into two. One side held rivvin villagers, as we thought, and the other was the realm of marauding savage beasts. The rivvin asked us to free them of the beasts, and we did, and returned to claim our promised reward. There was none. It was a trap, for the villagers themselves were beasts. Werewolves. They sought to slay us or to make us creatures like themselves. Durlyle cared for Sorkatani, even though he was a werewolf, and she for him. He turned against his people to save us.”
“My boyfriend was a werewolf too,” Willow said. “Uh, I’m kinda guessing it didn’t end happily.”
“He died,” Viconia said. “Sorkatani could not save him. A piece of her heart died with him, I think, for I have seen her look at no other man in that way since.” Her brow furrowed. “Except perhaps Yoshimo. Sometimes I think I see the same look in her eyes when she talks with him.”
“Yeah, me too,” Willow agreed. “I hope it works out. Everybody needs somebody.”
“Perhaps,” Viconia said. “You have no-one, it seems, now your Tara has abandoned you.”
“She hasn’t abandoned me,” Willow said. “Okay, maybe she’s interested in someone else, and we’re on a break, and she’s gone off without us, but …” She sniffled and her voice trailed off.
“There is, then, no reason for us not to find gratification together,” Viconia said. “When we have slain this Shade Lord the rivvin rabble should move out of the inn. There will be a room in which we two can seek pleasure in each other’s bodies.”
“Uh, eep, I, uh,” Willow stammered. “We shouldn’t.”
“Why should we not? You desire me, that is plain, and I have a certain affection for you. Your body is not unpleasing to me and we could entertain each other well, even in the absence of certain devices of my people that are unknown to these primitive savages. Fingers and tongues will suffice.”
“In truth I would rather be pleasured by Spike,” Viconia went on, “but he has thus far ignored my advances. You would be an acceptable substitute.”
“Gee, thanks. Uh, you do realize that Spike can probably hear every word that we are saying? Hello, vampire hearing?” Willow glanced around, fervently hoping that none of the others had heard any of the conversation, and she blushed.
“I care not,” Viconia said. “He knows that my legs would part for him readily. As they would for you, abbil.”
Willow had turned a bright shade of crimson. “I, uh, I think I’ll take up position ready for when we fight those things again,” she said. “You’d better do the same.” She swallowed. “I’m not saying a definite no,” she managed to say. “Maybe. But not yet. When I find out what Tara’s been up to.”
The creature stood over seven feet tall and was massively built. Its skin was grey and its lower canines protruded over its upper lip. They had fought a similar creature in the Slaver headquarters, and slain it without too much difficulty, but now Tara was alone and she was helpless in its grasp. She screamed and struggled but it simply ignored her resistance.
“A tasty piece,” it assessed her. “Nice ass.”
“Human meat is good,” another mighty creature, apparently of a different species as it had greenish skin and a jutting muzzle instead of a human jaw, grunted in agreement. “That one looks tender, yes.”
“I mean for a tumble not for eating, Dig-Dag, you fool,” the first monster sneered. It caught hold of her blouse and ripped it away to reveal her bra. “Huh? A strange garment. Pretty, but I’d rather see her tits.”
“Stop it, Tazok,” said the leather-clad man who had been among Tara’s kidnappers in Athkatla.
“You cannot give me orders, Rascar,” Tazok sneered. “If I want her I will take her.”
“You’d split her wide open,” Rascar said. “She’d be no good to any of the rest of us then. Anyway, Lord Firkraag said she was not to be raped. She’s worth too much as a virgin.” He glared at Tara. “That’s if we can find anywhere to sell you with the way your bunch have screwed up the Slaver set-up. Maybe we should just take you now. Only I go first.”
“She is virgin?” Tazok’s eyebrows ascended from his jutting brow ridges. “A pretty filly like this?”
“The word is she likes girls,” Rascar said. “We baited our trap with a girl, and she fell into it, so I guess it’s true. There’s only one way to find out. Unless you’ve got a unicorn handy?”
“You could just ask,” Tara said.
“The wench has spirit,” Tazok said. “So, girl, have you lain with a man?”
“No,” Tara told him. “I’m a virgin.” She was quaking with fear but still thinking clearly. Telling the truth, or at least the truth according to what their definition of virginity appeared to be, seemed to be the best way of avoiding being ravished. At least for the time being; and in this situation all she could do was to get through each moment as it came, until she was rescued, or she could find some way to escape.
“Then you’ve got a real treat coming, lass,” Rascar said.
“Not from you, Rascar,” Tazok growled. “This one is mine.”
“Both of you stop it and leave her alone,” a lean and elegant Elf wizard spoke up. “Lord Firkraag wants her kept in good condition, at least for the time being. She’s the bait in our trap. Once Sorkatani has turned up you can sell her, rape her, kill her and eat her, whatever you like, but for now you obey orders.”
“Sorkatani will kill you,” Tara said. “Or Buffy will, or Willow.”
“Sorkatani has killed me before,” Tazok told her. “I know well what she can do. But I came back from being dead. She can’t. We’re ready for her this time and we’ve got the toughest red dragon in all of Faerun on our side. She will die and turn to dust. The rest of your friends die too. Then Lord Firkraag won’t have any further use for you and we can get better acquainted.” He held up his free hand with the palm open and turned his eyes toward Rascar. “I’ll pay what the Slavers would have paid. I like this one and I will take her cherry.” He turned his gaze back on Tara. “I might even keep you, if you please me and you survive.” He grinned mirthlessly. “And if you die – then Dig-Dag can eat you.”
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use. Lyrics from ‘Sunshine on a Rainy Day’ and ‘Hammer’ by Zoë are also used without permission and no intention to profit.